Martian Soil and Challenges with 3D printing

This week we had our first round of parents’ evenings and it was a delight to hear how parents seem to be enjoying our space project as much as the children. Indeed, we have our second blog from a Year 5 parent, Justine Williams, posted today. The general opinion was that their children were becoming very knowledgeable about space and had amazed them by their well-informed conversations on the topic – particularly the recent landing of Philae on 67P.

Almost every week, something exciting seems to be happening in the world of space. Indeed this very evening, Italian astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, is leaving Earth from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with NASA astronaut Terry Virts and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.  They are part of the 42nd expedition to visit the International Space Station.

The Soyuz rocket will deliver the crew to their new home in under six hours. To get there so quickly, the rocket reaches up to 28 800 km/h accelerating 50 km/h on average every second for the first nine minutes after liftoff. It’s a good job it takes such a short time, as you wouldn’t want to be in that spacesuit for any longer than absolutely necessary – Mr Randall can testify to that.

Over the next six months we will be following Samantha and hopefully taking part in some of the experiments she will be performing in the micro-gravity environment.

So that leads on to what we have been doing towards our project this week. Well, Year 5 had a visit from Sue Andrews from ESERO, who led an investigation into different soil examples, sent by the European Space Agency. The children carried out various tasks, as if they were real space scientists. The objective was to determine which of the samples was closest to actual Martian soil. They were given a series of cards which contained facts about what scientists think Martial soil is like, based on data received from the Curiosity Rover, currently located on the planet.

Using a combination of observation and scientific processes such as filtering, evaporation and testing for acidity, the children were able to reach a reasoned conclusion. Both Sue and I were extremely impressed by the way each group worked cohesively as a team. It was wonderful to eavesdrop on the fervent discussions that were taking place – full of scientific language.

And, it’s not only Year 5 that have been focussed on space this week. In our weekly sharing assembly, again half of the work celebrated was connected with our Out of This World project. To celebrate the success of the Rosetta mission, the Year 2s had been busy making comets out of a combination of polystyrene balls, cotton wool, pipe cleaners and glitter – but the most important achievement was that they could actually describe the different elements of the comet to their audience. They knew about the nucleus and the coma and the fact that they were largely made up of ice mixed with smaller amounts of dust and rock – quite impressive for 6&7 year olds. Not to be outdone, Reception proudly displayed the maths that they had been doing – which of course revolved around stars. What a wide reaching topic space is!

To finish, just a note about 3D printing, which has proved to be more challenging than I first anticipated. This is definitely a technology still being developed and not yet fully ‘consumer ready’. But, it is a good thing, as it stretches the team. I have written about the importance of children working at the edge of their understanding, so it is right that we, as teachers, should occasionally move out of our comfort zone. By the end of this year, we will all have developed new skills, which we will be able to confidently share with others.

One of the difficulties we face is trying to integrate the printers into our existing school network. The goal is to be able to print wirelessly, using software on Laptops and iPads and be able to access Makerbot’s online resources and cloud services through the Makerbot Desktop software. This all works perfectly in a home WiFi environment, but there seem to be a number of restrictions preventing this from happening at school: frustrating, but not insurmountable. As one of the first primary schools to attempt to use this technology, we will hopefully end up solving these problems for those that follow.

We plan to share our expertise in March next year with other schools in our cluster, so the resolution of these issues can’t come soon enough.

Year 2 comets

Year 2 with their comets. Can you spot the coma?

Reception numbers

We like counting stars in Reception.


3D printing can be quite a mystery sometimes.

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